Missed Communication – Short fiction inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press

lonelygirl_by_ChristinaDeubel

This weeks Sunday Picture Press, by Indigo Spider, titled Missed Communication, has some wonderful inspiring images. However, I was struck by the stunning painting by Christina Deubel, for last week’s SPP, Angry & Broken and how it was calling out for a story of its own.

After writing last weeks piece, where young Jacob learns to Glimmer with help from Granny T, I didn’t want the story to end there. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing time with Jacob, and feel his sister, Felicity, deserves to have her story told.

Since this is an unplanned and very much a set-of-my-pants piece of writing, I’ll only be tidying it up with spell checking, and little editing. I like it that way, raw and unfiltered.

Let’s see what happens.

Missed Communication.

Felicity Tandy wasn’t afraid at first.

The only person who noticed the world pause was Felicity.

She huddled under the special umbrella Granny T had told her to bring. The one from the cupboard under the stairs that no one other than Granny T could open without being hit in the face by the leathery folds.

Late afternoon sun clung to the sky like a fried egg clinging to the lip of a frying pan.

Eight years isn’t long enough to gain a true insight into fear. Not unless shadow monsters creeping across the bedroom count. Felicity knew it was simply her imagination. She knew the real monsters were in a far-away place.

Knelt on a soft, soothing carpet of sun soaked grass, heather and lavender, Felicity wondered if the monsters, the Reek, as Granny T called them, were really so far away.

A light breeze washed over the meadow, but the smell of lavender wasn’t as strong as it should have been. Jabbing the umbrella handle in the doughy earth, Felicity peered out and sniffed the air.

It was empty.

Like someone had sucked up the good smells.

Arms wrapped around the pole, Felicity detected a different smell. Rotten like old tuna cans left in the garbage too long mixed with her dad’s stinky leather gardening shoes. Faint at first, but growing in intensity. She’d smelled it before. But now there was something else, a red smell, like deep rich liver or burning tomatoes.

That smell was subtle, like it didn’t want to be detected.

Felicity knew it didn’t want anyone to know it was there.

What scared Felicity was how that new smell was coming for her. It knew she knew about it. And it wasn’t happy. No. That wasn’t right. It was happy and unhappy at the same time. It reminded Felicity of the next door neighbours dog, Huffa, a saggy faced brown thing that barked and snarled at her through the fence when she played in the back garden. But it also wagged it’s tail.

She knew what the Reek smelled like – cabbage, mould and old clothes.

Whatever was coming for her, she knew it wasn’t the Reek.

Felicity clung to Granny T’s umbrella, the first inkling of true fear rose out of the ground and spread through her trembling body.

Where was Granny T?

divider 1 Sunday night, three weeks before her eighth birthday, Felicity was in bed pretending to be asleep. Earlier in the day she’d told her mum she didn’t want to go school the next day because she was too poorly. She felt sick and sort of funny. Her mum stuck the thermometer in her mouth and placed a hand on her forehead.

Felicity kept her crossed fingers behind her back and hoped the thermometer would say she was very sick and she must stay at home. At least for a day, but a week would be better.

She knew she’d have to go to school when her mum smiled. Her temperature was normal.

“It might be wrong,” Felicity said, fingers still crossed.

“You don’t look sick.”

“I’m very poorly.”

“Then you should be in bed.”

Felicity had looked at the sun soaked back garden. She wanted to play hide-and-seek again with Jakey. “Right now?”

“Yes. That’s where poorly girls go when they’re not well.”

“Feeling icky there, puppet?” Granny T asked her.

Felicity nodded. “All icky and poorly.”

Granny T had looked up from her knitting and stared at her across the kitchen table. “Then it’s off to bed with you, like your mum said.”

With a sigh, Felicity hung her head. “Well…’kay. I’ll go to bed.”

“Only if you’re poorly,” Granny T said.

“I am.”

To prove she was very poorly, Felicity spent the rest of the afternoon in bed. When her mum brought soup and a crusty roll on a tray she asked if Felicity felt any better.

“Still poorly.”

The thermometer went in her mouth again.

“Still fine,” her mum told her.

Felicity sighed and slumped against her pillows.

Lovely brown fluffy Dillon Dog, her favourite stuffed toy, offered her no support.

She wasn’t poorly, but pretending to be was tiring and it made her feel irritated. She didn’t want to go to school because everyone smelled. Not always in a bad way, some children smelled lovely like conkers, chocolate milk and bubble bath. Her best friend Chloe used to smell like vanilla yoghurt, but just lately that had changed to dog poo and cabbage.

Felicity hated cabbage. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to smell like boiled cabbage.

And she didn’t understand why some of the rougher boys smelled of raspberry pie, even when they were dirty after climbing trees and crawling through dirt playing Soldiers and Terrorists. Even her teacher, Mrs Pryce, who once had a wonderful odour of books and wool, suddenly stank like she’d had a bath in pickled onions.

The pickled onion stench was so strong that a few months ago Felicity had puked on her desk when Mrs Pryce leaned over to help her with her sums.

divider 1

Everyone had laughed at Felicity.

She felt wobbly and very lonely.

And then the world paused.

Mrs Pryce had stopped moving. She had pulled back when the first splash of vomit landed on the desk, face frozen with her mouth open, wide eyes peering over her glasses. A dozen chunks of vomit hung in the air like slow snowflakes.

Chloe, sat next to her, had jumped up in fright. Three colouring pencils were stuck in the air as if someone had glued them to invisible string and suspended them from the ceiling for a joke.

Felicity stared in horror at Tommy, Luke and Gavin who were on the other side of the desk. Their hands were stuck out in front of them, fingers pointed at her. Tommy looked like he was about to wet himself, he was laughing so hard. But there was no noise. Not a sound came out of their mouths.

In fact the entire classroom had gone silent, so fast that Felicity thought she had gone deaf.

That sudden feeling of isolation changed to fear when she realised the whole class wasn’t pretending to be a statue.

Mrs Pryce stopped smelling of nasty pickled onions. Instead she smelled of old tuna and mouldy leather.

For a few seconds Felicity gaped at the rest of the unmoving class.

Then the world caught up with itself.

Laughter boomed into Felicity’s ears. Chloe’s pencils clattered over the floor. Gloopy vomit splashed and trickled over the edge of the desk. And Mrs Pryce once again smelled of pickled onions.

No one had noticed the world pause.

Felicity’s mum was called to school and they went home. Too frightened to tell her mum what had really happened, Felicity simply said she felt sick after eating her lunch. She spent two days at home. When she returned to school she didn’t care whether anyone called her names, and didn’t notice when they did. What worried her the most was if the world paused again because people were too smelly.

It made sense to her that if the world got too smelly it would stop again.

The smells faded a little after that, but they soon came back. Everywhere Felicity went the smells were very strong. At home most smells were normal and expected, but some felt out-of-place. The living room was drenched in apples, everything felt green and red. The downstairs toilet hurt her head with rich sickly sweet syrup, golden orange and yellow.

In the months leading up to her big poorly performance, Felicity began having trouble with colours. At school they were doing a big painting of the Great Fire of London that would go on the classroom wall. All the children knew how to paint fire. Lots of read and orange and yellow coming out of the houses.

Felicity and Chloe were given The Tower of London to paint. Their painting would go in the middle so it had to be the best.

“Start with red first?” Chloe said. “That way we put on orange and yellow last, ‘kay?”

“Bigger fire than Tommy and Gavin,” Felicity agreed.

Felicity opened the box with the coloured pencils inside. Her stomach fluttered when an aroma of hot dogs and tomato ketchup wafted up when she opened the lid. Keen to avoid another puke incident, Felicity held her breath, selected a red pencil and began drawing flames over The Tower.

She was quite a good drawer and was soon lost in the creation of flames whooshing into the sky.

Consumed by the fire eating the buildings, Felicity didn’t pay much attention to Chloe. It wasn’t until she noticed her best friend had stopped drawing that she too paused to find out what was wrong.

“Flicity, we said red flames first,” Chloe complained.

“We are.”

“Flames are red, not green.”

Felicity stared at their painting. Her half of The Tower of London was festooned with wild green flames.

“Why did you do that?” Chloe asked her. “Now it’s gonna look silly.”

Felicity felt the same crawling horror rise from her feet as when the world had paused. She stroked the green pencil on the paper. It wasn’t red, neither was the colour of the pencil.

“It was red when I got it out.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“But…” Felicity glanced up and saw Tommy and Gavin staring at her. “You swapped my red pencil.”

“Did not. You took it out the box,” Tommy replied.

“Yeah. I saw you do it,” Gavin added.

“Now it’s ruined,” Chloe said. She raised her hand. “Mrs Pryce? Flicity has done it all wrong.”

As Mrs Pryce fussed around them, Felicity stared at the box of pencils. She picked up a bright blue one.

“That one is red,” Chloe said.

Felicity didn’t understand. Her friends were playing tricks on her. She was holding a blue pencil. She was sure of it.

“Mrs Pryce?” Felicity said, now holding up a yellow pencil. “What colour is this one?”

“Purple, Felicity.”

“And this one?” she asked, selecting a brown pencil.

“Pink,” Mrs Pryce said. “Are you feeling okay, Felicity?”

Felicity was glad Mrs Pryce didn’t smell of pickled onions, though she was too confused over the colours to worry about smells. Gripping the brown pencil tight, she glanced up at Chloe.

“I’ll just draw the people in br…pink” she said. “Then cut them out and paste them on your picture, ‘kay?”

Chloe watched her for a moment, gaze shifting from face to pencil. “Okay,” she said and started drawing again.

Felicity spend the rest of the day trying to work out what colours were the right ones. She didn’t dare ask her friends why the caretaker had painted the sports field orange. She knew grass was green, so why had it been changed? And why had the bricks of the main school building become blue and grey instead of dark red.

The next day at school was the worst ever.

Not only were all the colours wrong but they had begun to smell. Felicity knew colours didn’t smell. That was silly. Apart from Oranges. At least they still smelled the same.

Felicity almost gagged when it was lunch time. Her fish fingers were green and smelled of socks, and her pasta was bright red and smelled of the new carpet in her bedroom.

She was glad when the school bell rang and she could go home.

Granny T was coming for the weekend and she always made Felicity feel better.

divider 1

After a day in bed, not playing hide-and-seek and not listening to Granny T’s wonderful stories, Felicity was stood in her bedroom staring at her stuffed toys. Most were on her bed, some on the floor and some perched on the shelves next to the window.

When her mum came to tuck her in she stood in the door way watching Felicity.

“Dillon Dog, you’re the best because you’re purple. Purple is a good colour. Purple smells like flowers.”

Felicity placed the fluffy brown Dillon Dog on her pillow and picked up a bright orange minion from Despicable Me. “Minions are yellow. I don’t like you because you’re pink now. Pink is wrong. It smells of porridge.”

She put the minion under the bed and jumped when she saw her mum stood in the doorway.

“Minions are yellow, sweetie,” her mum said with a frown. “Like eggs and sunflowers and bananas.”

“Not him.” Felicity climbed onto her bed. “He’s wrong now.”

Her mum laughed and pulled the duvet over Felicity. “Get some sleep.”

Felicity sniffed the air. Cabbages.

“I want Granny T to read me a story.”

“Granny T is off to her own bed now. You’ll see her next weekend.”

“But she read to Jakey. That’s not fair.”

When her mum kissed her forehead, Felicity knew she could smell her dad’s old leather shoes.

“Maybe next weekend, sweetie,” she said.

The air behind her mum turned dark blue as she walked away. She switched on the night-light by her wardrobe then paused to smile. A thin, half-hearted smile that Felicity knew meant she was trying to be cheerful.

The closing door swept a surge of smells across the room – cabbage, mould and old clothes.

That alone was confusing, just like all the other changes to colour and smells Felicity had experienced.

She listened to the stairs creak as her mum went downstairs. She could always hear muffled voices from the living room. That night the voices were crystal clear. Only they weren’t voices, they were colours and smells.

Horrified and huddled under her duvet she listened to her mum and dad talking about Jakey and Granny T. Their voices were crisp white and yellow, smeared with strawberry jam. They were angry. Her dad sounded deep red and vanilla, like he wasn’t happy, like he was ashamed of what they were planning to do.

Felicity watched the whirlwind of colours dip and rise like smoke caught in the wind. They collided with one another all around her bedroom, bouncing and jostling around.

Her mum and dad continued to argue.

A sudden shift in air pressure happened a second before music started playing in the living room. Felicity knew her parents were trying to hide their voices with music. It didn’t matter what they did because Felicity could filter out the spikes of cream and gusts of pineapple from the music and still hear the cabbage and shoes of her parents.

Then another colour came.

It wasn’t like the others. This one was very dark, almost black. And it smelled of rotting old tuna cans and her dad’s horrible gardening shoes. It was joined by burning liver and tomatoes. She watched it seep through the rainbow smoke swirls, tainting them at first but gradually absorbing every singe one.

This was the colour of lies.

And the smell of hatred.

That was when Felicity knew that Granny T was going to die that night.

divider 1

Felicity woke to darkness.

Something had chased her around the garden in her dreams. Something big and angry, like Huffa, the next door neighbour’s dog. Only this thing didn’t smell like dog but burning meat.

Her bedroom was quiet and still.

The swirling mass of smells and colours from earlier was gone.

There was something funny about her bedroom. It didn’t look right, as if someone had removed all her toys and clothes and games and replaced them statues. She knew things didn’t move on their own, but she was certain that nothing in her bedroom could move even if it wanted to.

You can Glimmer, puppet, that’s all.

Felicity wanted to stare at every nook and cranny at the same time. Granny T’s voice had come out of nowhere which didn’t make any sense because…

Then she remembered falling asleep, knowing that Granny T was going to die. She knew this in the same way she knew tomorrow followed today. But how…?

The air around her felt lumpy like invisible marshmallows were bumping against her.

“Glimmer?”

It means you can see things others can’t.

Felicity rubbed her eyes and sat up. Dillon Dog rolled off her pillow but didn’t fall to the carpet.

It hung in the air like the pencils had in school when she’d puked.

“Granny T? Where are you?”

You know the answer to that one, puppet.

A long wobbly deep breath thudded out of Felicity’s mouth. She reached for Dillon Dog but stopped before she grabbed his back legs. Instead she shuffled back and dragged the duvet around her.

“Why did you die?”

It’s the way things had to be.

“So you’re gone forever now?”

In a way, yes. But being dead isn’t like what most people think.

“Did it hurt?”

Only for a teeny tiny second.

“Where are you now?”

I’m still here. Does that frighten you?

Felicity thought about this for a moment. “No. Maybe. A bit. But I can’t see you.”

See without looking and you’ll find me.

“What does that mean?”

You’ve been doing it a lot lately, haven’t you? At school? On the sports field? In your bedroom?

Felicity gasped. “How do you know that?”

When Granny T laughed, Felicity was amazed to see a haze of golden sparks hover in the air for a second at the end of her bed.

You have a gift, puppet. You can Glimmer. You see the world differently from other people.

“Like the colours going all silly?”

Granny T chuckled. This time a shower of sparks floated for longer, and Felicity was almost certain she could see the outline of Granny T’s face.

“Sometimes things smell wrong too.”

Ah. Strawberries that smell of poo or teachers that smell of pickled onions? Things shift and change when you Glimmer.

Felicity clasped her hands over her mouth. “Yes. How did you know that?”

I know many things, puppet.

“You never said.”

I had to be sure before I said anything. The gift is different for those who are chosen.

“Chosed by who?”

The who isn’t as important as the why you were chosEN.

“Chosen,” Felicity said, repeating the word in silence again. “Colours are easier than words.”

Sparks shimmered like tiny fireworks at the end of her bed. They didn’t fade this time. Granny T was covered in them. She shifted and turned to face Felicity.

“Are you a…ghost?”

Some would say so. But I’m still here, aren’t I?

“I can see you,” Felicity said, lowering her duvet and creeping forward. “Can I touch you?”

Do you want to try?

Felicity crawled down her bed, nudged aside a stuffed dinosaur and knelt in front of Granny T. She was mesmerised by the floating sparks that surrounded Granny T like she wore a skin made of sparkly sequins. Slowly she reached out a hand and touched Granny T’s shoulder.

She had never touched a cloud before, and often wondered what it would feel like to fly into the sky and scoop up a handful of cloud.

Granny T was exactly how Felicity imagined a cloud felt – soft and warm like bubbles in the bath. The sparks tingled a little when she brushed her fingers over them. She learned if she pushed too hard her hand passed right through them. She found that alarming at first but soon managed to keep her touch light and gentle.

“Wow.”

Isn’t it amazing?

Felicity settled back and studied Granny T’s face. The features where the same, doughy cheeks, wrinkles around her eyes and small glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. Only now everything was made of golden shimmering sparks.

“Do all ghosts look like you?”

Not all but some do to those who Glimmer.

“What’s Glimmer?”

It’s a wonderful way to see the world. When you’re young it’s hard to control. It happens like when you get angry or moody or happy.

“Like the smells and colours going wrong?”

Yes. And when it happens the world stops for you. It lets you go to another place. A wondrous place.

“Like the sea-side?”

Granny T smiled.

Not quite. You sort of slip into a different world but stay in one spot.

“Oh. Like when I spin around in the garden and get dizzy and fall over?”

Almost, yes.

“Why do I go there?”

For now there’s no reason. It just happens. But when you learn how do it you’ll be able to do amazing things, puppet. Truly amazing things.

Felicity was amazed. She couldn’t stop looking at Granny T.

“Like what?”

Help people.

“Like a doctor or a fire man?”

Maybe even more than that.

Felicity pulled a face. “That means I have to do lots of learning.”

Yes. But not like at school. I can teach you how to Glimmer.

“Even now you’re dead?”

Yes. But there are rules, puppet.

Felicity scowled. “No one likes rules.”

These are good rules.

Felicity stroked her stuffed dinosaur. “Okay.”

First, never linger too long when you Glimmer. There are things that want to get you. They’re called the Reek.

“Things? Why do they want me?”

Because they love and hate you at the same time. They want to leave their place and come back with you. But you mustn’t let them. Not ever.

Felicity nodded, no longer sure she liked the idea of Glimmer. “Why?”

Because if they come to your place they’ll hurt people.

“Oh. You said people get chosed…chosen. Why?”

So they can protect others.

“Oh. Do I have to protect someone?”

Yes.

“Who?”

Jake.

“Why?”

Because he’s your brother.

“He’s two years older than me.”

He’s special. One day you will have to protect him. He’ll need you when the Reek come to get him.

“Why can’t he protect himself?”

He doesn’t know he needs protecting.

“So why’s he so special and not me?”

You’re both very, very special. And one day he will have to save everyone.

Felicity frowned. “I have to save him so he can save everyone?”

Granny T laughed.

Yes, puppet. Sounds silly doesn’t it?

“Very silly.”

I’ll teach you how. I’ll teach you everything I know.

Granny T turned away and faced Felicity’s bookshelf.

We have time. Trust me. She’ll be ready.

“Granny T?”

We agreed she was the one to do this. If not her, who else?

Felicity looked at her bookshelf. “Who are you talking to?”

Granny T turned back again.

Just a friend.

“I can’t see anyone.”

They’re gone now. When the time comes will you protect Jake?

Felicity nodded.

Good.

“What’s going to happen?”

Granny T reached out and patted Felicity’s knee.

When you’re ready, puppet. One secret at a time.

She stood and a shower of sparks cascaded over the bed and faded away.

The day after your eighth birthday you must take my umbrella from the cupboard under the stairs, then go up the road to the big church.

“Why?”

Granny T began to fade.

Go around the back of the church and walk to the middle of the meadow.

Felicity rose up. “Where are you going?”

Open the umbrella and wait for me. Will you do that?

“Yes, but why-”

I’ll see you very soon. I have to go.

“Granny T…”

The darkness of her bedroom stole the sparks and Granny T faded away.

I love you, puppet, with all my heart and soul.

divider 1

Finished right where it needed to.

From the opening scene I wasn’t sure where this was going, except I knew I wanted to explore Felicity’s story and how she could Glimmer. I was tempted to continue with it and find out why Granny T was late showing up at the meadow, or if she showed up at all. And also why Felicity so scared.

I was hoping to capture the essence of innocence, wonder and fear as seen through a child’s eyes. I know as a child I saw the world very differently compared to today’s eyes.

And though I am way too cynical for my own good, and I’m all grown up now (though some would argue that just because I’m an adult I’m not yet grown up!) but I still remember the wonder and excitement that the world held for me as a young lad.

Whilst Jake’s Glimmer is very much based on visuals, Felicity’s comes from smells and colours. I looked this up and found it is indeed a real condition called Synesthesia, where the senses are confused and people hear colours, taste sounds and so forth. Only Felicity’s Synesthesia is due to her ability to Glimmer rather than a neurological disorder.

I thought this might make for interesting subject material whilst exploring Jake and Felicity’s ability to Glimmer.

I’ll leave you to ponder what may happen next, if you’re so inclined dear blog reader.

It’s late and my pillow is calling to me in soft tones of beige, vanilla and the soft sound of froth fizzing on the shore.

Big credit to Christina Deubel and her painting Lonely Girl – once again, thanks for the inspiration!

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8 thoughts on “Missed Communication – Short fiction inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press

  1. Awww, very poignant the way Granny T died.

    I love this: “This was the colour of lies. And the smell of hatred.

    Another great read. I watched a documentary a few years back about people who “see” sounds, “taste” colors and the like, very interesting; odd and hard to fathom how that all works. Must make life very interesting. I think you did a good job capturing the strangeness of it all in a very believable way.

    I’m also curious about the Reek and what they are planning!

    • I’m curious about them too, at the moment I have a vague idea of who they are and what they’re planning, well sort of. It’s weird because when I wrote the first part (funny how I’m thinking of this in parts now) I didn’t have a real aim, yet as I wrote this piece I could begin to see where it might lead and what could happen. Tune in next week I guess!

    • What an awesome story and yes, the smell of lies is by far my favorite line. It really captures me. What an interesting direction you took Felicity’s abilities. Can’t wait to read what happens next!

    • This has grabbed my attention more than I first thought. At the moment it’s just fun to watch the story grow, and it feels like it could fall into the same category as my other novella type works, Ground Fall, which was around 25k, and Arcane Insane, which was about 40k if I remember. Both were inspired by Sunday Picture Press a couple of years ago.

      I actually started to rewrite Arcane Insane, renamed TruthJacker for NaNoWriMo this year, and though I reached about 60k I never got around to finishing it.

      Once I’ve completed my Bloodwalker Trilogy, The Range, The Holt and The Retreat, I’m going to work on those shorter pieces, maybe see if they can fleshed out a little more, and if not work them into a compendium of sorts, 3 novellas in one book, maybe with a central theme running through them.

      In fact, TruthJacker and Ground Fall are linked together, with different character inhabiting the same world, but where the plots dance around one another. I’m now wondering if these can be nudged to revolve around the plots of the others.

      Indeed, I’m starting to think these works, and upcoming ones, could come under the title of Glimmer. Seems quite apt I think.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Picture Press: Secrets | Indigo Spider

  3. Pingback: Secrets – Short fiction inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press | Dave Farmer

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